Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told The London Telegraph last week that Britain and the United States should expect a large-scale chemical and biological weapons assault on civilian targets by Osama bin Laden's terrorist group. The objective, said Wolfowitz, is to cause tens of thousands of casualties.
If such a forecast is based on sound intelligence, President Bush should consider emulating his predecessor, Harry Truman, and employ the use of at least tactical nuclear weapons against the Taliban should it be concluded that such a weapon might produce better results than the current bombing campaign. If this is war, why pull any punches?
There are similarities between Japan in 1945 - the first and only time any nation has employed nuclear weapons in warfare - and Afghanistan now. Then, Japanese troops frequently hid in caves and pillboxes and fought with a religious fervor inspired by their Emperor in whom they vested divine power.
Now, the Taliban use caves as protective cover and are inspired by religious zeal.
Gen. George C. Marshall recounted Japanese resistance and the willingness of Japanese soldiers to fight to the death during World War II. "We had one hundred thousand people killed in Tokyo in one night of bombs, and it had seemingly no effect whatsoever," Marshall is quoted in "Truman," David McCullough's 1992 biography of the president. "It destroyed the Japanese cities, yes, but their morale was affected, so far as we could tell, not at all. So it seemed quite necessary, if we could, to shock them into action...We had to end the war; we had to save American lives."
That was Truman's main concern - saving American lives. As recounted in McCullough's book, the president took no delight in wiping out entire cities and thousands of civilians, but Japan, like the Taliban today, had started the war and would not give up. The Japanese, like the Taliban, promised more American dead, and Truman's first obligation, like that of President Bush, was to protect America and Americans. "It occurred to me," McCullough quotes Truman, "that a quarter of a million of the flower of our young manhood were worth a couple of Japanese cities, and I still think they were and are."
"Remember Pearl Harbor" served as a rallying cry for a previous generation that taught warmongers the consequences of attacking the United States. "Remember the World Trade Center and the Pentagon" should serve as a contemporary rallying cry. The Taliban fight with the weapons of terror, determined to kill every man, woman and child they can. The United States should spare no effort in wiping out the Taliban and all terrorists who would follow in their sandal-steps. If there is collateral civilian damage, that's war.
America's willingness to use nuclear weapons during World War II preserved the peace and struck fear into the hearts of our adversaries. It's time for another demonstration of our resolve. Perhaps nothing short of nuclear weapons will deter for another generation the enemies of freedom. Like the fanatical Japanese of Truman's day, the fanatical Taliban will not be dissuaded from murdering as many Americans as they can. This is not a time for diplomatic or political niceties. It is a time to wipe them out before they wipe any more of us out.
Harry Truman was not afraid to use the power he had to save America and the lives of its citizens. As David McCullough writes, "Japan had some 2.5 million regular troops on the home islands, but every male between the ages of 15 and 60; every female from 17 to 45, was being conscripted and armed with everything from ancient brass cannon to bamboo spears, taught to strap explosives to their bodies and throw themselves at advancing tanks."
That's the kind of fanaticism the United States faces in Afghanistan and in countries like Iraq. If we show them that our sword is bigger than theirs and, more importantly, that we will not shrink from using it to defend our people and our values, the likelihood we will have to do so again in the near future will be diminished.
There is a psychological and political downside to deploying even tactical nuclear weapons. But there's a bigger downside should Wolfowitz's forecast come true. Americans and Britons who would die in such a terrorist attack - and their loved ones - deserve to know that their countries are doing all they can to defend them.